The maker of the Seal and the Dolphin produces a car that can actually swim

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Don’t you hate it when you take a wrong turn on the way to the office and end up in a lake? Clothes are ruined, car’s ruined, and the people fishing get cross. Well, the Yangwang U8 is here to help, because it can float for 30 minutes and even motor itself out by spinning the wheels. Allegedly.

A Yangwhatnow? Yangwang is the prestige brand of BYD, and although there are no official plans to sell it in the Europe yet, the firm’s executives are strongly considering it, and the fact that they’re showing the U8 to a bunch of UK journalists does say something.

We didn’t get a demonstration of the U8 being dunked in water, but Yangwang’s people did delight in making the thing do tank turns all day. With the left and right wheels turning in opposite directions, the U8 pirouettes with all the grace of a circus elephant. It looks mechanically cruel but apparently the car will keep doing its trick.

Yangwang isn’t pronounced the way you might expect it to be, by the way. The ‘ang’ bits sound more like the ‘aww’ you might say to a cute kitten. Still, if you ask representatives whether they’ll actually call it that if it comes to Europe, the reaction varies from “we’re thinking about it” to “probably not”. It means something along the lines of ‘to look up at the stars’, but I don’t think they’re particularly attached to the name, given the brand was only launched a year ago in China.

The U8 is not a cute kitten, looking more like a cross between a Land Rover Defender and the Kia EV9’s evil twin. What it is instead is a collection of all the gimmicks your heart could possibly desire.

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Aside from being semi-amphibious (the U8 does it in emergencies only and needs to be checked over by a workshop after any swim), it can do tank turns, has active hydraulic suspension and its armrest cubby can be set to temperatures of between 60deg C and -5deg C.

The actual mechanical specification is quite impressive. It’s a ladder-chassis off-roader with a 295bhp electric motor for each wheel and approach, departure and breakover angles that are close to an Ineos Grenadier’s. It’s not an EV, but a range-extender plug-in hybrid, because with a shape like that, a weight like that (around 3500kg) and four motors drawing power, it would need an enormous battery to have any kind of usable range. Instead, it has a 49kWh battery (similar to what you might find in a BYD Dolphin), with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine powering a generator. On the Chinese economy cycle, it has a 112-mile electric range and will do somewhere between 20 and 30mpg.

Inside, it’s a cut above normal BYDs. This is the best the company has to offer. So rather than the usual imitation leather, this has real nappa leather and wood veneers. Despite a dashboard design that’s very reminiscent of Bentleys’, it’s not up to that level – there’s a bit too much plastic for that and the wood is a bit Allegro Vanden Plas – but this is definitely a high-quality cabin. The chairs are broad, adjustable and comfortable, and there are acres of room.

And, of course, there are screens, many screens. None of them rotates, but the centre one is curved to conform to the dashboard’s shape. Given this was a Chinese-market car, it couldn’t access any of its streaming services, and the interface had been hastily translated to English. It’s clearly related to the interface in BYDs we’ve tried, but with a few upgrades. There’s now a permanent bar at the bottom with shortcuts and climate controls, and that makes all the difference to usability. It should make its way to existing BYDs over the air at some point.

Another consequence of this being a Chinese-market car is that it’s not homologated for UK roads, so we had to make do with a few laps of the Goodwood Motor Circuit (hence there’s no star rating). To absolutely no one’s surprise, this 3.5-tonne off-roader feels quite out of its depth on a fast race track.

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The suspension is some mysterious active system that uses hydraulic actuators to vary the ride height and spring rate, not entirely unlike the Porsche Panamera Turbo from last week. It has normal coil springs and anti-roll bars, though, because air springs can allegedly burst when you jump the car. No one was able to explain in detail how it works, but it’s certainly not as spectacular as the Porsche system. The U8 never felt perilously close to falling over, but neither did I feel it do very much to disguise its weight. Equally, the smooth track surface felt weirdly knobbly.

It’s pretty quick, if not quite 1180bhp quick, and it sometimes throttled back during testing. I’m not sure whether that was the traction control trying to keep things orderly or because the battery is not up to delivering all that power continuously. The engine is pretty quiet when it kicks in, though.

In China, the U8 costs the equivalent of £120,000, and you probably would need to add a bit to that by the time it’s made legal here and converted to right-hand drive. That seems like a lot of money for a car that’ll need to sell on its gimmicks rather than its actual usefulness. It’s interesting to see the Chinese car industry flex its technological muscle like this. I don’t think the U8 would catch on here in its current form, but a lot might happen in a few years.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.